Labor unions turn their back on US-Mexico-Canada trade agreement

Border Report Tour

Activists recall job losses from NAFTA, say 'sham' unions in Mexico sabotage wages on both sides of the border

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — Despite some optimism from the White House and the business community, labor union leaders refuse to back the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

The USMCA would replace the existing North American Free Trade Agreement, which predates e-commerce and has been criticized for shortcomings in environmental and labor protections.

“The new NAFTA is not a policy we support at this time,” said Liz Shuler, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO, during a visit to El Paso last week. “The lack of enforcement, the lack of resources committed by the country of Mexico are not adequate. … As we stand now, NAFTA 2.0 does not have the assurances we need for fair trade policies that work for the working people.”

Earlier, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka had been more blunt, saying Mexico maintains cheap wages by using “sham” labor unions that sign off on whatever deal a corporation brings to the table.

“If Mexico cannot enforce its own laws, then this agreement will never work because their wages will be artificially low. They will suck jobs and capital out of the United States,” Trumka told Bloomberg last month. His comments came after President Trump boasted that the USMCA “has become very popular, unions are liking it, farmers are loving it and manufacturers are really liking it.”

A former worker from the North American Mailing Services maquiladora in Juarez, Mexico, takes home a box of groceries the federal government handed out last week to employees who weren’t paid severance when the factory closed. (photo courtesy Medios Integra)

The new trade deal will create 167,000 new jobs and incorporates core labor protections, according to the White House. Border labor activists said that’s a song they’ve heard before and don’t believe.

“When NAFTA passed we lost 35,000 jobs in the garment industry. A majority of the workers in that industry were women who were making $13 an hour, buying homes on the Eastside and sending their kids to college. Those are the jobs we lost that never came back,” said Lorena Andrade, executive director of La Mujer Obrera, an El Paso, Texas nonprofit for displaced workers.

Andrade, who keeps in touch with independent union organizers and environmentalists in Mexico, said the new trade agreement will further erode wage potential on both sides of the border and foster a more rapid consumption of natural resources in Mexico.

“Their idea of progress is not good for our communities,” she said. The factories “can just pick up and leave when they want. Women workers are disposable on both sides of the border; our communities are disposable.”

Ildefonso Magana, a representative of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades in Laveen, Arizona, said the Trump administration is eager to sign a trade agreement with Mexico but turns its back on any talk regarding immigration reform.

“There is a moral double-standard that allows the free flow of trade, merchandise and wealth but prohibits the free transit of those who produce the wealth, of the workers,” he said at a labor union meeting in El Paso last week.

To learn more about the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, visit the page of the United States Trade Representative here.

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